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Email is a constant struggle for most of us these days. It comes in thick and fast and threatens to overwhelm us if we take even a few days away from our inbox. Is it just me, or does anyone else think that email is becoming the New Boss?

Most of us can remember life before email, back when we only had the phone or paper mail. When email came into popularity, we had a choice of how we used it. We could either treat it like the telephone and answer it immediately. Or treat it like paper mail and answer it when we were ready, in batches. Many of us have gradually, bit by bit, fallen into the immediate answer paradigm at the expense of our productivity, sanity and lifestyle. Think about how you process snail mail compared to your email habits and you will see what I mean. This is where we get into trouble.

You have more control over the speed of the email in and out of your life than you know. Try this out today. Answer an email in a draft and then wait an extra hour before you press Send. Does the world grind to a halt? Try holding back for a couple of hours or a half a day. What happens?

In most cases, it is quite reasonable to respond to a supposedly urgent email a day or even a week later. Slow down the stream and life goes on. Just like back in the old days of snail mail, if people expect a slow response, then they will work with it.

The speed that you reply to an email directly determines your correspondent’s perception of what is normal. If you respond instantly, then that is what they will expect of you. If you respond a day later then they will live with that as well. You make a noose for your own neck when you constantly try to answer emails instantly. Sooner or later you will find that you are spending all day emailing and will never get anything else done. Now is the time to gradually claw back a routine and batch your emails together for top productivity.

Set your routine

Decide what time (or times) you will deal with email each day. At that time (assuming you deal with it once a day) you will have the last 24 hours worth of emails waiting for you. Set up an efficient system to deal with all of your emails in one sitting. Sort, process, act and delete, until there is nothing left. Then turn off your email. Now that you have done your emailing, get to work on whatever else is important to you. Achieve something valuable and don’t refer back to email until your next scheduled time. Repeat the process. Quite quickly, your contacts will come to understand how soon they can expect a response from you. If email isn’t fast enough, they’ll soon be on the phone, but for most things, people just wait.

This is not the solution for everyone, but it sure helps me. Batching my emails and only dealing with them once a day saves me a lot of time and has freed up my day for doing what is important. If anyone needs my attention straight away they can get it, but they will not get it by emailing me. Treating email like snail mail has revolutionised my communication without reducing my effectiveness. Why not give it a try?

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